Michael McKillop defends 1500m title in style at Rio 2016

There was another gold medal for Team Ireland on Day Four of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games today as Michael McKillop stormed home to glory in the T37 1500m in a time of 4.12.11.

It is a second successive Paralympic gold for McKillop in the 1500m, following a win at London 2012, but he was truly pushed to his limits in the race by Canadian Liam Stanley who shadowed him for the majority of the race in the searing heat of the Brazilian sun. With less than two hundred and fifty metres to go, McKillop pushed on, creating a gap he was able to maintain until the finish, winning in emphatic style.

Speaking afterwards, an exhausted and emotional McKillop said: “This one is special because I've come through a really tough time… and I'm just glad that I was able to go out and win because of the tough times. I had to stay focussed and realise what life is about, it's not just about winning gold medals, it's about living and being proud to live the life that I have, and I'm lucky!”

Commenting on managing peoples’ expectations for this event, the Antrim native was emotional stating: “It's an incredible experience to live up to people's expectations once again. It's mentally tough but when you go to bed two nights in a row and Jason's got his medal on the bedside table it's a hard one to take. Everyone around us looked at the medal and I avoided it at all costs because I had it in my head that I was going to win my own gold medal. I'll always remember those times but in 2017 I'll still be there. I'm going to still be fighting and by the time I go to Tokyo I can hang my spikes up with pride.” 

Also in action today, was Dublin’s Orla Comerford in her first Paralympic final, the T13 100m event. Having posted a time of 12.81 seconds in the heats, Comerford was marginally slower today finishing in 8th position with a time of 12.87 seconds in a final which was won by Ukraine’s Leilia Adzhametova in a world record time of 11.79 seconds.

“I just knew it wasn't there on the day, I felt it in my legs but I made it to the final,” she said afterwards. “That was my first goal and I achieved it. For now, that's good as it's my first major championship. The atmosphere on the track is like nothing I've ever felt. The crowd is totally behind you, it's an outstanding crowd out of there.”

Reflecting on her year, Comerford added: “This year was really tough and I'm so glad to get here but a couple more years of hard training I really think something like that is in my reach.”

While this concludes Comerford’s competition at this year’s Games, she remains a bright hope in the future of Irish Paralympic Athletics.

Meanwhile in the velodrome, the women’s tandem pairing of Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal finished 5th in the Women’s B Tandem Individual Pursuit with a Personal Best time at sea level of 3.33.471. With only four bikes progressing to the medal ride-offs it was disappointment for the Irish duo who were just pipped to the fourth place spot in the final lap by the New Zealand bike by an agonising 0.173 seconds.

Speaking after the race Dunlevy and McCrystal were disappointed with their finishing position; “We’re disappointed. We’re here to get in the medal ride-off for gold and silver; we believed we could do it. We were aiming to get a Personal Best today, but it wasn’t good enough on the day. We train on the track when we can, and go to camps in Majorca, but it does go back to not having that velodrome at home. It would make such a difference if we had one, there’s only so much you can do with limited time. We were up against two nations who train full time in the velodrome, hopefully our advantage will be the time trial [on the road]; it doesn’t cost to train on an open road. However, we got a two and a half second PB today which is amazing for us.”

In the Men’s B Tandem Kilo Damien Vereker and Seán Hahessy finished in 8th place with a Personal Best of 1.06.370, and were pleased with their performance; “We got out of the gate cleanly and kept on the power on, in the kilo you are keeping on as much power as you can going around.” Tandem pilot Hahessy added: “A minute and six seconds to do 1km; I went to school one kilometre from my house and never got there that quick! We’re pretty happy.”

Monday and Tuesday sees a break in the cycling schedule before all seven Irish bikes are in action next Wednesday in the Time Trial.

Elsewhere in the swimming pool, Ireland’s Ellen Keane made her Rio 2016 Games debut and despite an impressive swim in the SM9 200m Individual Medley, did not progress to the final. Keane, swimming in heat three of the event, clocked 2 minutes 41.17 seconds but would have needed to swim under her best time of 2:39.95 to advance.

Despite looking in contention early on in the race, turning first on the Backstroke leg, but faded back to fourth at the Freestyle.

“I’ve been really working on my backstroke for the last year and it’s gotten much better but I think I underestimated how much it would take out of me and even though Breaststroke would be my strongest I just couldn’t catch my breath,” Keane reflected. “Freestyle is my weakest so maybe I should have held back so I had more energy. I gave it my all and can say I left nothing in the tank.”

The 21-year-old, who is competing at her third Paralympic Games was happy to get her first race done ahead of her main event on Wednesday, the SB8 100m Breaststroke.

“It was great to get in and get my first race out of the way, I’ve been watching everyone compete for a few days and the nerves just kept on building, this is my third Games and I’ve never been anywhere like this before, the stadium is amazing, the crowds amazing.”

Also in action in the pool this morning was Ailbhe Kelly who finished 7th in her heat of the S8 100m Freestyle. Kelly touched home in 1 minute 20.65 seconds to place 15th overall. The 17-year-old was happy after her swim: “I definitely enjoyed that a lot more than I did the 400m (Freestyle), I was a lot calmer going in to it, I wasn’t as nervous. It probably wasn’t the time I was looking for but I’m experiencing my first Games so I’m happy enough with the swim.”

James Scully and Nicole Turner return to the pool tomorrow. 200m Freestyle Finalist Scully will compete in the 50m Freestyle while double Finalist Turner swims the heats of the 200m Individual Medley.

Also in action today were para triathletes Catherine Walsh and Fran Meehan who were representing Ireland at Rio 2016 as the sport made its debut. The pair got off to a steady start in the swim, holding a solid 10th place position, before moving on to their more favoured bike, which saw them finish fifth fastest and move up the rankings. They went on put in another steady performance in the run and finished eighth overall.

Speaking after the race, Catherine Walsh stated: “We are absolutely delighted, we are part of a bigger squad of Para-Triathlon athletes at home and we were the only ones that actually qualified, as well as representing ourselves, I feel we were also representing them here today too. It was a really enjoyable event”.

Catherine’s pilot Fran Meehan commented: “It was very hot, the water was a lot calmer today which helped us and we swam a new personal best and we are thrilled with that. Our cycle was solid and in our run we manged to pull it back. It was hard from start to finish, but we are delighted to be part of this – it was an amazing setting. We gave it everything for everyone in the team today”.

 Competition continues for Team Ireland tomorrow. 

NewsMary McGuireNews, Rio 2016